Using Head Content as Schema.org Microdata for Google+

by Aaron Bradley on January 6, 2012

in Semantic Web, SEO

Using Meta Data as Microdata for Google Plus

When one shares a resource using the +1 button, Google attempts to extract a page title, a description of the page and a thumbnail image from that resource.  This preview is then used on the Google+ post page (and one would think that the same extraction logic is used when linking to a page directly from Google+, but I have yet to verify this with testing).

According to Google's technical documentation for the +1 button, the data is extracted from the target URL in one of four ways, listed in order of precedence.

  1. Schema.org microdata
  2. Open Graph protocol
  3. Meta "title" and "description" tags
  4. Best guess from page content

The examples given for 1 (schema.org microdata) and 3 (meta tags) – and the fact they are listed separately – imply that they are mutually exclusive.  The schema.org example (like any "official" examples I've encountered) show the description and name properties (itemprop) employed in the <body>.  This is consistent with Google's discussion of "non-visible content" on their microdata page.

In general, Google won't display content that is not visible to the user. In other words, don't show content to users in one way, and use hidden text to mark up information separately for search engines and web applications. You should mark up the text that actually appears to your users when they visit your web pages.

In their discussion of exceptions they talk chiefly of using non-visible content "to provide search engines with more detailed information, even if you don't want that information to be seen by visitors to your page" (emphasis mine).

It always struck me as problematic that, according to these examples and Google's guidelines, I seemingly shouldn't be using the <meta> description as the description itemprop for a page, despite the fact they serve the same function.  And as often as not it would be disingenuous to put a description of the page a visitor is already viewing on the page itself.  Such a description is most useful in off-site environments, such as a search result or a Google+ post snippet.

The same is conceptually true of a page's <title> tag, where one would think that the <title> tag is acceptable to use as the name itemprop for an Article or WebPage type, although unlike a <meta> description the content of a <title> tag usually appears on the page as a human-viewable heading, so at least is accessible for one to markup as a human-viewable element.

However, when I went to Google's +1 Button page that contains a snippet customization tool, it provides you with the utility to set the markup location as <head>.  When I entered the following…

Customize +Snippet Tool on Google

… this is the code it generated for me:

<!-- Update your html tag to include the itemscope
and itemtype attributes -->
<html itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Article">

<!-- Add the following three tags inside head -->
<meta itemprop="name" content="Aaron's Article Title">
<meta itemprop="description" content="A riveting description
of the article.">

As one can clearly see, one can encode the description itemprop in a <meta> tag that appears in the <head>.  So why not double up on the <meta> description tag?  (By the way that's the verbatim output:  yes, it says to add three tags but gives you only two.)

<meta name="description" itemprop="description"
content="A riveting description of the article.">

For that matter, why not go the full distance and double up on the <title> tag as well?

<title itemprop="name">Aaron's Article Title</title>
<meta name="description" itemprop="description"
content="A riveting description of the article.">

I don't see anything wrong with this either from a microdata syntax perspective, or from a Google+ usage perspective.  I'd love to hear from any readers that see this as problematic.

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